Back in time for posters

Do you remember the ghosts of Notting Hill Gate?

wide of disused passageway Notting Hill Gate tube station

These were the posters discovered during a renovation of the tube station a few years ago. A fascinating time capsule, they provided an evocative wormhole back to the concerns and consumerism of the late 1950s, all documented by LT’s Head of Design and Heritage, Mike Ashworth.

Old posters in disused passageway at Notting Hill Gate tube station, 2010

Where we lead, the French follow.  Or so it seems.

Old posters revealed on Paris Metro at Trinité station

The Paris metro station of Trinité is being prepared for renovation.  As layers of cladding were stripped back, a whole archive of posters was revealed here too.


By a curious coincidence, the posters date from just a year later than the Notting Hill survivors, revealing the everyday life of Paris in 1959.

cladding reveals old posters at Trinite metro

A life which, in some ways, was very different to ours.  The left-hand poster is apparently a roll-call of all those convicted of offences on the network, while the right is about visits to the underground tombs of the city.

two posters from trinité station

Neither of which were found anywhere near the walls of Notting Hill Gate.

But what really strikes me about these posters is that, dare I say it, the overall standard of design is not as good as those in London.  I wasn’t expecting that at all, when design historians spend so much time apologising for British design in comparison to Continental trends, but it’s true.

Paris bus services poster from Trinite metro

Of course there are some good posters.  In fact this one looks great and I quite fancy a copy.

Calor iron advertisement Trinite metro

I’d love to be able to see more of this intriguing fragment too.

fragment of old poster trinite metro

But overall, I’m afraid to say that I think Notting Hill Gate would have been a more visually pleasing place to catch the train.

The other thing that strikes me about the comparison though, is more about the present day.  The posters in Paris are only here for you to see today because they were snapped by a passing commuter, although fortunately one who is a professional photographer.


He’s called Yann Covès, and all of the photographs on here are his.

Whereas in London, the notion of heritage is so much more entrenched that LT have a man to manage it.  Which I also think is probably better, but then I’m British so I would say that, wouldn’t I?

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Odds and ends, including string

This has appeared on eBay.

Modern House In England cover Eckersley Lombers

It’s fearfully expensive, with a starting price of £125, but I thought it was worth drawing to your attention, because it’s an Eckersley-Lombers design that I can’t recall having seen before.  And it is wonderfully modern.

I haven’t been scrutinising eBay as much as I used to, mainly because the bargains are pretty thin on the ground these days, and there are only so many times I can post about over-priced posters and unauthorised reproductions without losing my faith in human nature.   But – for an edifying lesson in a dealer’s mark-up, it’s worth looking at these.

Service with a Smile GPO poster, who seem to be philatelists, have clearly picked up some of the many GPO posters that have come on the market recently.  I would guess that these had come from the Onslows sale, not least because of the presence of this poster of Norwich market, which seemed to be included with every single lot there.  (I like to imagine a teetering pile of these posters in the corner of the archive, having to be sold in the end for reasons of health and safety.)

Norwich Market, GPO poster

Yours for £20, and they’ve sold two already, which makes me even more likely to suspect Onslows as the source.

But I’m not entirely sure, because I don’t remember seeing this going past at any point, and a quick rifle through the catalogues hasn’t left me any the wiser either.

Tom Eckersley postcards beach GPO poster

However hard I try to get the thought out of my mind, I can’t help being reminded of of a flag stuck in a giant dog poo.  But despite that it is on offer for a rather more chunky £150.

I also don’t recollect this one either, and I would have thought I would, seeing as it’s related to one of my favourite subjects string.

GPO saving usable length of string

For reasons too complicated to explain, I found recently myself googling the story of the pensioner whose wartime economies included a drawer marked ‘lengths of string, too short to be of use’.  I’d always thought it was an urban legend, but found people swearing it had been true of their own parents.

That’s going for £55, and I’d be surprised if the poster cost much more than £20 to the dealer concerned, if that.  I’ve been forced to think about dealer’s mark-ups recently, because I’ve had to explain to someone who got in contact with the blog that, just because there is a Harry Stevens poster on sale at Fears & Kahn for £495,

Harry Stevens welsh mountains bus poster

…that doesn’t mean that their smaller bus poster is therefore worth £100.  I hope I didn’t disappoint them too much.

This is partly  because I don’t believe that the Harry Stevens is actually worth that much, although Fears & Kahn clearly do, and are happy to wait for long enough until the right buyer comes along who wants it at that price.  Which is also something that has to be factored into the valuation.

But this is also how a dealer makes their money.  They have to pay for premises, storage, advertising, web presence, fairs and all of the malarkey that comes with being a business, so the added value is fair enough.

Now I can hear you protesting that none of this is exactly news, and is how the antiques trade has been working for generations.  But what this does make me wonder what the actual value of a poster is.  Is it the price it might fetch at auction, or is it the price that a dealer might get for it?

I’ll give you one more example, because it’s a poster I can track quite easily (and am pre-disposed towards, because it hangs in our bedroom being cheerful).

Royston Cooper lion keep britain tidy

Fears & Khan have it on sale for £675, and frankly that’s what I think it should be worth.  And in the past it has sold for that amount of money at Christies.  Yet when it last popped up at Onslows a couple of years ago it went for £70.  Which means that the seller probably didn’t get much over £50 for their trouble.  So, what’s it worth?

All of which means that I am a bit wary of telling people what a poster is worth any more.  Because I don’t think there is one single answer any more.

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Hear more, do less

Now here’s something interesting, albeit thoroughly of its era in its attitude to racial difference.  (A riot of Colour and Music reads rather differently to us today with those images attached).

shop display card for Philips Broadcast of 1938

Nonetheless, here it is and so, like the Volkswagen and Empire Marketing Board posters, we shall consider it.

This was emailed to me by Kerry, who found it in her attic and – this is probably a relevant piece of information – lives in Guildford, which is home to the Philips head office in Britain.

What it isn’t, though, is a poster, as the rear view shows.

Philips broadcast 1938 back view

It’s a shop display card, although admittedly quite a big one.  Which means that I can’t seem to discover very much about the image or the design.

However, what I can find, which is in some ways even more interesting, is the actual thing it is advertising, the Philips Broadcast 1938.

This turns out to be a five minute animated film, by early and renowned animator George Pal (lots more info out there if you are interested).  Which, joy of joys, is available on YouTube, and turns out to be utterly wonderful.

What we have here – and it’s a useful reminder for those of us, like me, who tend to look only at posters – is a pre-war multi-media campaign.  The shop card is advertising a cinema short which in turn wants you to buy a radio.  (I do have a few questions as to why a colour film is a good way of persuading you to buy a radio, but I think we’ll just have to accept that things were different then.)

Posters, it’s worth remembering, didn’t exist in splendid isolation.  They lived alongside newspaper and magazine advertisements, as well as cinema ads, part of a whole advertising package.

Coincidentally, I discovered another example of this only last night.  I haven’t mentioned the MacFisheries graphics by Hans Schleger for a while, which I probably should have done as they are classic, brilliant and criminally unknown.

Hans Schleger salmon Macfisheries poster

But then, on a Pathé showreel, I found something really interesting – and yes, if you want to imagine me and Mr Crownfolio sitting in of a winter evening and watching 1950s cinema ads, feel free: it’s what happened.

It turns out that Pathé, as well as producing newsreels, also made advertisements themselves, and quite a few of them, up to two hundred a year (there’s a blog about it here).  A small sample were edited together to show to prospective advertisers, and you can take a look at this here (sadly it’s on the Pathé website, so I can’t embed it like a YouTube video).

In amongst them you will find a Macfisheries advert, using the Schleger graphic styleat the start and end, to persuade you to think about serving turkey for Easter as well as Christmas.

MacFisheries tv ad Schleger graphics

end of 1950s macfisheries ad

Here’s another of posters for reference (any excuse).

Macfisheries Hans Schleger turkey poster

The ad is at 11’30” in, but I heartily recommend watching the whole thing for added entertainment.  Dry Hair for men doesn’t seem to be a problem now, but they were very worried about it then.

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For Their Eyes Only

I’m battling with a post about auctions at the moment, but sense is eluding me.  So while I sort myself out, why don’t you take a look at this pair of posters.  Although they’re not very cheery.

Protect and Survive residential street before bomb

Residential street after bomb damage 1958 civil defence poster

The images were sent to me by Mark T, who found them in an old hospital over twenty years ago and has hung onto them ever since.  He actually has the full set of eight – here’s another happy image (borrowed from this website which has a thoroughly comprehensive exposition of the Protect and Survive programme of that era).

civil defence bomb damage poster 1958

I’d never seen these posters before, although when I search for them, they are in the collection of the Imperial War Museum, which tells me that they date from 1958.

But quite apart from the shock value, they interest me for two reasons.  One is that you can’t look for something if it’s not there.  What else are we missing that we do not know is there?  I suppose means that one day I should just put the keyword ‘poster’ into the IWM collection and see what turns up.  If I’m gone for a long time, you’ll know why.

The other point, though, is that not all posters have the same audience.  What is fascinating about this set is that unlike most posters they were definitely not meant to be seen by everyone.  At a time when government advice for what to do in a nuclear attack was to put two doors against a wall and batten them with luggage, these posters are telling the unvarnished truth about what would actually happen if a bomb did fall.  Look at this poster.

city centre nuclear bomb damage civil defence poster 1958

A door isn’t going to be much use there, is it?

It’s no surprise really then that these were found in a hospital.  These are the people who would have needed to know the scale of the damage and how many people would be injured; quite possibly this was where the Civil Defence Planning Meetings were held.  But very few would have seen the posters at all, because only a very select few were meant to know how bad it was going to be.

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Why Bring That Up?

Sometimes I make promises which turn out to be quite rash.

When this poster came up for sale a few weeks ago, I said that I would find out more about both Tristram Hillier and Jezreel’s tower and report back.

vintage shell poster HILLIER, Tristram (1905-1983) - YOU CAN BE SURE OF SHELL, Jezreel's temple, Gillingham lithographic poster in colours, printed by The Baynard Press

In both cases this has turned out to be a more difficult task than I thought.  (I do also have a residual bitterness, because we tried to bid on this poster and were thwarted by the internet, and so it went to someone else for only £120, but I shall try not to let this cloud what comes next, even though I am a bit narked by it all.)

I thought Jezreel’s Tower would just be the ruin of some seventeenth century folly.  If only.  The building is modern, made from steel beams and concrete, while its story turns out to be far more complicated, with cans of worms concealed within other cans of worms, along with eccentricity, delusion and religion.  And the Co-op.  So what follows here is a very abridged version, with plenty of links to people who will tell you more.

The tower was begun in the late 1880s, by James White, who had become a follower of the prophetess Joanna Southcott (you can read her teachings here if you like – do report back as I haven’t gone that far).  White changed his name to James Jershom Jezebel, decided that he was a Messenger of the Lord and set up his own church in Gillingham.  This new sect had its headquarters in Gillingham, and combined religious fervour with a certain commercial acumen, as they managed to run several successful businesses in the town, including carpenters, joiners and printers, as well as a dairy, along with a greengrocers in Marylebone.

All of this meant that the sect had enough money to think about a headquarters, and White/Jezreel, bolstered, inevitably, by a vision from God, wanted this to be a grand one.  The tower was planned in accordance with the Book of Revelations, although scaled down slightly after intervention by the architects (that must have been an interesting meeting) and the foundation stone laid in 1885.

The building was intended to hold many things, including acres of printing presses to spread the word and a 5,000 seater amphitheatre, along with bakeries, reading rooms and lifts, and the concrete construction was to ensure that the tower survived the conflagration of the Day of Judgement.

But it was never completed; Jezreel himself was dead before the foundations had been finished, and his wife Esther, who took over the sect, died only three years later.  Work on the tower never restarted, and the buildings were sold in 1903.  The new owners tried to demolish it, but gave up as the building was so solidly built.  So what Hillier depicts on the poster, although it looks substantial, is only a part of what was constructed, and an even smaller part of what was planned.

The land and buildings were bought by the C0-op in 1920, who used the basements for a shoe repairing factory.  There was also, at some point, a small factory on the site, producing hose clips stamped ‘Jezreel Tower Works.’  The last remaining buildings were demolished as late as 2008.

All of this would be worth telling for its own sake, as a reminder of just how much strangeness lives alongside us in daily life.  But it also helps to explain why the tower might have appealed to Hillier.  His painting is always informed by a sense of intense oddness in otherwise everyday objects.  But as a Catholic schooled by monks at Downside, he also seemed to have an awareness of the closeness of death and judgement.  Perhaps.  He might just have liked the view.

I’m not sure I want to write much more than that about Hillier himself.  Usually the more I find out about someone, the more interesting they become to me.  But having read Hillier’s biography, I actually like the painting less.  I’m not sure why that is: it turns out that he was enormously successful in the 60s and 70s, producing and selling huge numbers of his odd, humming paintings.  And he lived only fifteen or so miles from here, so I can understand his images of these hedges and lanes too.  But I still don’t like them.

I came out the other end concluding that in fact I liked his commercial work more than anything else he produced.  I’ve gone on about the Shell Nature Studies before now.

Tristram Hillier Fossils shell educational poster illustration

But he also produced a couple more posters for Shell, both of which are wonderful too.

Tristram Hillier shell tourists

Tristram Hillier shell seamen

I’m not entirely able to explain why this is the case – and why I am so clearly out of step with the picture buying public who snapped up his works back in the day.  It could be that I expect more than just a frisson of surrealism from a painting, and so end up disappointed.  But perhaps it is the other way round.  Hillier seemed able to bring the same level of oddness to his commercial works as to his fine art.  There are many strange artists, but here in the world of posters, he ended up doing something almost unique.

All of which is a bit of a falling note to end on, so to cheer you up, have this.  From the splendidly titled series, Why Bring That Up? (why indeed), Pathé News will now explain Jezreel’s Tower.

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Accidental Indexing

Right, there’s an auction on at Bloomsbury Auctions right now (or at least it will be by the time I post this).  Quite why anybody has a poster auction at this time of year – there’s Onslow’s next week as well – I don’t know.   Not only has any spare cash I might have gone on presents and turkeys, but I don’t even have time to think about what’s on offer.  As the lateness of this post shows.

Nonetheless, we’re going to take a cruise through the catalogue, not only because it’s a rather pleasing selection of posters, but they also form a kind of index to some of the things that have obsessed this blog here in the last few years, which amused me.  So, in no particular order,  here goes.

First is an AOA poster by Lewitt Him.  These are a constant in any auction worth its salt, and I’d be intrigued to know why quite so many survived (there are another two in this catalogue alone).

vintage airline poster LEWITT-HIM - AOA USA, we carry more passengers.... lithographic poster in colours, pinted by W.R. Royle & son Ltd., England

This is my favourite, though, as the one which perhaps best proves the point that the airline posters of the late 1940s and very early 50s are still engaged in a quite intense conversation with the war.  How much does this remind you of an aircraft recognition poster? And radar?  Quite a lot, I’d say.

In an equally unsurprising development, women are still getting to relax on holiday while their families have fun on the beach.  In this case, both parents have absented themselves entirely while the children get on with running riot.

vintage railway poster F ? W.M. - GREAT YARMOUTH, British Railways offset lithographic poster in colours, c.1957, printed by Jordison & Co. London

The catalogue dates this poster to 1957, but what 1930s faces those children have.  The designer has signed in an illegible scrawl, and the poster doesn’t seem to be in the NRM collection, so I can’t tell you if he’d been working since then, or what.  But in trying to find out, I did discover this gem.

vintage british railways poster great yarmouth

Here the woman is so relaxed that her head seems to have exploded.  It’s a risk.

It’s pleasing to see a small selection of Shell posters, which are appearing less frequently at auction these days, for reasons I cannot pretend to understand.

vintage shell poster HILLIER, Tristram (1905-1983) - YOU CAN BE SURE OF SHELL, Jezreel's temple, Gillingham lithographic poster in colours, printed by The Baynard Press

This one is by the strange and wonderful Tristram Hillier, who deserves much greater fame than seems to be his lot.  I now see that there is a biography of him.  I will read it and report back in the new year.

In amongst the railway posters, this blazes.  The image didn’t come up at all when we were debating depictions of industry and the North, although it definitely should have.

JACK, Richard RA. (1866-1952) - BRITISH INDUSTRIES, LMS, Steel lithographic poster in colours, 1924, printed by Staffords, Netherfields vintage LMS railway poster

It’s always good to be reminded about the sheer joy that are the posters of Pieter Huveneers.

 BUY STAMPS IN BOOKS, GPO lithographic poster in colours, 1958

While in the London Transport section, we are also reminded that Harry Stevens is a much better designer than he is sometimes given credit for.

STEVENS, Harry (1919-2008) - MILES OF PATHS.... London Underground offset lithographic poster in colours, 1965

Finally, there is also one London Transport gem which hasn’t come up on here before.

DEIGHTON, Leonard Cyril (b.1929) - IN LONDON'S COUTRY; VILLAGE LIFE lithographic poster in colours, 1957, printed by Curwen Press cond B

It’s worthy of inclusion just for being a great bit of 1957 design, but it’s also by Len Deighton.  A man of many talents, clearly.

More thoughts about auctions to come over the next couple of weeks, along with some pictures of cute dogs, because it’s Christmas.

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